Express & Star

Andy Richardson: Giving in to wildlife in the garden is truly rewarding

I’m pretty sure he couldn’t see us. Or, if he could, he simply didn’t care. Standing four or five metres away was a muntjac, resplendent in a shiny brown coat, scanning the air for signs of danger. I stood stock still, as he grazed on the foliage. He stopped for a moment, raising his nose to the air to sniff for predators, then he resumed his grazing.

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We’d moved out into the sticks...

He was oblivious to us, as we stood on the other side of a glass window, watching nature at its best from our living room.

Later that evening, a rabbit hopped into view, following the same path that the muntjac had taken, while staying close to the ground. He looked this way and that, surveying the scene to ensure his own safety.

And we marvelled at our welcome visitors.

A year or so ago, I made a decision. Or, rather, a decision made itself known to me. We’d moved out into the sticks, buying a house with a gorgeous garden.

And then workaholism had struck and despite buying three lawnmowers, two strimmers, and two chainsaws, the garden had gradually become more and more overgrown.

There’d been a straight choice: chain myself to a laptop and write more books, or abandon literary ambition to mow the grass.

At the time, the latter seemed the most likely. Back then, I’d got big plans, which now seem absurd. The lawn would be worthy of an award and at one stage I’d even looked at buying a huge, mechanical roller – as you do – because there’s no fad like a gardening fad when it comes to indulging ideas that are patently ridiculous.

Ebay had offered me a list of cricket clubs that no longer wanted their heavy rollers – all I’d need was a crane, a team of 18 blokes, and the commitment to head outside when I’d rather be in.

I’d literally intended to drive up and down on the roller, making the lawn as flat as a cricket wicket, and then, given it’s brilliance, I’d planned to install a net, a bowling machine, and pretend to be Ben Stokes for a long hot summer.

The grass, however, grew longer, and then, rather than being cut, it was allowed to grow seeds, turn brown, and sway in the mid-summer breeze.

Gradually, where once I’d imagined bowling-green-lawn, a small meadow started to form and a population of butterflies and moths quickly moved in. And they were joyous.

There might not be the joy in watching a lawn turn into a field that some find in immaculately tended borders, but we found ourselves utterly delighted at the display from Mother Nature.

Our garden, now wild, had become a haven. Food was left for other, nocturnal visitors, while seed was provided for birds.

Paths were trampled through the long grass and the trees became filled with birds.

I’m sure the former owners would be horrified. They’d look at the removal of vast leylandii hedge and wonder at the vandalism wrought on their former patch.

They’d see a swathe of tall grasses and wonder whatever happened to the short-cut green baize that they’d known as ever-present.

When we moved in, the former owner surveyed the garden and bemoaned in good humour the long, fruitless hours that he’d spent mowing lawns. Which gave me an idea: don’t mow them. Save that time and do something that makes you happy, rather than being a slave to something you don’t like.

And so, rebelling against his control over nature, that’s precisely what we did.

And it feels like being out in the countryside as we make our own paths through overgrown grass and as we notice different species of winged insect fluttering through the grass or, on this-is-like-winning-the-Countryfile-lottery days, we see Muntjacs eating at a distance so close that our living room feels like an urban farm.

I guess one day we might have to cut the lawn. Perhaps we’ll sell up and the estate agent will tell us by how much we’ve devalued the property.

But I doubt it. I can’t think of anything more fun or more rewarding to watch nature in all its finery. After all, it’s their patch – we’re just passing through.

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